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– Gary Samore
Former White House Coordinator for Arms Control and WMD Terrorism
Conventional Arms Control

Arms Survey Highlights ATT Challenge

Jefferson Morley

The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) faces daunting obstacles in controlling the global conventional weapons market, according to the latest UN statistics analyzed in the 2014 Small Arms Survey. “The ATT process has raised the level of attention and scrutiny given to this issue at the global level, and will undoubtedly continue to do so,” said the annual report compiled by Swiss researchers and released in mid-June. But, the survey added, “the compromises necessary for agreement on the treaty text have left the ATT with few unqualified legal obligations.”

At the same time, the arms trade is burgeoning, according to the survey done by the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva. The researchers found that global trade in small arms and light weapons almost doubled between 2001 and 2011, from $2.4 billion to $4.6 billion. The market for small arms ammunition saw the greatest increase, followed by pistols and revolvers, sporting rifles, and sporting shotguns, according to the survey. But exporting countries are not required to report information on the approval or denial of export license applications, and more than half of the major arms-exporting countries do not do so, according to the survey.

“The ATT makes a significant contribution to existing legal frameworks by introducing new standards for the international transfer of conventional arms,” the survey said. “These gains are, however, more modest in comparison with existing small arms control measures.”

The treaty “has the potential to detract attention from ongoing processes,” such as the Firearms Protocol to the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, which requires states to establish criminal penalties for illicit manufacturing of and trafficking in firearms, as well as tampering with the markings on firearms, the survey said.

Existing laws regulating trade in ammunition are especially weak, according to a study of seven countries with arms conflicts conducted for the survey. Bullets made in China and the former Soviet Union accounted for the greatest share of ammunition found in Côte d’Ivoire, Libya, Somalia, Somaliland, South Sudan, Sudan, and Syria. “The presence of different types of unmarked cartridges in all but one of the countries and territories under review raises new hurdles for arms monitoring efforts,” the report said.

The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) faces daunting obstacles in controlling the global conventional weapons market, according to the latest UN statistics analyzed in the 2014 Small Arms Survey. 

U.S. Formally Ends Landmine Production

Jefferson Morley

The U.S. government announced on June 27 that it will not produce or acquire anti-personnel landmines and that it intends to join the global Mine Ban Treaty at some point in the future, a stance that did not satisfy activists and officials pressing to rid the world of landmines.

The U.S. government is “diligently pursuing…solutions that would be compliant” with the treaty and “that would ultimately allow us to accede” to it, Douglas Griffiths, the U.S. ambassador to Mozambique, said in a statement delivered at a review conference for the treaty being held in Maputo. The parties to the treaty, which entered into force in 1999, hold these conferences every five years.

The week-long meeting was attended by more than 1,000 people from the treaty’s 161 parties and from international and nongovernmental organizations.

Supporters of the treaty voiced disappointment throughout the conference that the United States has yet to join the treaty, which President Barack Obama endorsed as a U.S. senator in 2007. Although U.S. officials told reporters that their review of U.S. landmine policy, which began five years ago, is not completed, the announced changes fell short of proponents’ hopes for U.S. accession to the treaty.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the most vocal proponent of the mine ban in Congress, called the policy changes “incremental but…significant.”

“The White House once and for all has put the United States on a path to join the treaty,” Leahy said in a June 27 statement. “An obvious next step is for the Pentagon to destroy its remaining stockpile of mines, which do not belong in the arsenal of civilized nations.”

Handicap International, which assists landmine victims in 33 countries, welcomed the change in U.S. policy in a June 27 statement, but said that, “without clear or immediate action deadlines, there is room for concern.”

The International Campaign to Ban Land Mines (ICBL) called the changes “a positive step,” but said the step “falls short of what is needed to ensure the weapons are never used again.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon criticized the United States and other holdouts in a June 24 statement that was delivered to the conference by Angela Kane, the UN high representative for disarmament affairs.

The goal of a world free of anti-personnel mines “has become an attainable reality,” Ban said in the statement. “But we cannot rest as long as anti-personnel mines continue to kill and maim. Some of the world’s largest countries with considerable stocks of anti-personnel landmines remain outside” the Mine Ban Treaty.

The office of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, said in a June 27 statement that Dempsey still considers landmines “a valuable tool in the arsenal of the United States” but that he supports the policy shift.

“The chairman believes this decision on anti-personnel land mines, given our current stockpiles, protects current capabilities while we work towards a reliable and effective substitute,” the statement said.

The U.S. military has an active stockpile of slightly more than 3 million anti-personnel mines, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said at a June 27 briefing. The utility of the landmines will start to decline in about 10 years, and the mines will be “completely unusable” after 20 years, he said.

In his remarks in Maputo, Griffiths said the United States is “conducting a high[-]fidelity modeling and simulation effort to ascertain how to mitigate the risks associated with the loss” of anti-personnel mines.

The United States and 35 other countries are not party to the treaty, but most of them abide by its key provisions, according to the ICBL. The Geneva-based group said only five countries have used anti-personnel mines since 2009: Israel, Libya, Myanmar, Russia, and Syria.

The United States, which has not produced new landmines since 1997, is the world’s largest donor to efforts to reduce the threat of landmines and explosive remnants of war, with $2.3 billion spent on mine action in the last two decades.

Declining Casualties

The treaty has dramatically reduced the number of people killed or maimed by landmines and explosive remnants of war, according to report released at the conference by the global watchdog Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor. In the first five years after the treaty and its provisions for clearing minefields entered into force, 31 countries reported 27,674 people were killed or wounded by landmines. Between 2009 and 2013, those countries reported 13,224 casualties, or less than half of the first five-year period.

In the past five years, Afghanistan had the most landmine casualties, followed by Cambodia and Colombia, according to the Monitor.

The study found that, since 1999, 48 percent of the victims of mines and explosive remnants of war have been children.


Renouncing the production of landmines, the White House said the United States would seek approaches that eventually would allow it to join the global treaty banning such weapons.

U.S. Pledge Not to Produce Landmines Positive, But Falls Short: It Is Time to Accede to Mine Ban Treaty

Statement of Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director Today, on the final day of the Third Review Conference of the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty in Maputo, Mozambique, the United States formally announced that it will not produce or acquire any new anti-personnel land mines and will not replace the existing U.S. stockpile of landmines. The statement from U.S. Ambassador Griffiths from the U.S. Embassy in Maputo also states that "...we are diligently pursuing other solutions that would be compliant with the Convention and that would ultimately allow us to accede to the Convention." The U.S. statement from...

Autonomous Weapons Stir Geneva Debate

Jefferson Morley

The first multinational conference dedicated exclusively to robotic warfare took place May 13-16 at the UN Office at Geneva as governments around the world confront the emerging technologies that policymakers call “lethal autonomous weapons systems” and headline writers have dubbed “killer robots.”

The three-day meeting featured diplomats, scholars, and activists debating the implications of new weapons that could automatically target and kill people without human control. Although few such weapons exist now, revolutionary developments in sensors and robotics have stoked fears in some quarters that these weapons systems could make warfare less risky for the attacker and therefore more indiscriminate, but raised hopes in others that they might reduce civilian casualties.

“Delegations underlined the fact that this meeting had contributed to forming common understandings, but that questions still remained,” Jean-Hugues Simon-Michel of France, who chaired the meeting, said in his report. “Many delegations expressed the view that the process should be continued.”

Representatives from 87 countries and a dozen civil society groups attended the conclave amid high media interest. Multiple news outlets reported on the meeting of the parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), which bans weapons such as blinding lasers.

The result of the Geneva meeting was a mixture of urgency and uncertainty among the 100-plus attendees.

“All too often, international law only responds to atrocities and suffering” after they have happened, Michael Møller, acting director-general of the UN Office, said in welcoming the conference participants, “You have the opportunity to take pre-emptive action and ensure that the decision to end life remains firmly under human control.”

Five states—Cuba, Ecuador, Egypt, Pakistan, and the Vatican—submitted statements calling for a ban on the lethal autonomous systems. “Experiences have shown that it is best to ban a weapon system that is deemed excessively injurious or has an indiscriminate effect before it is being deployed [rather] than afterwards,” said Walid Abdelnasser, head of the Egyptian delegation, in Egypt’s statement.

That call was echoed by most of the civil society organizations in attendance, including the Nobel Women’s Initiative, which submitted an open letter signed by 20 Nobel Peace Prize winners endorsing a ban.

U.S. officials said talk of a ban or any other specific policy measure was “premature” and often based on an inaccurate conception of the weapons involved.

“Too often the phrase [‘lethal autonomous weapons systems’] appears still to evoke the idea of a humanoid machine independently selecting targets for engagement and operating in a dynamic and complex urban environment,” Stephen Townley, the State Department official who headed the eight-person U.S. delegation, said in his opening statement. “But that is a far cry from what we should be focusing on, which is the likely trajectory of technological development, not images from popular culture.”

Mary Cummings, director of the Humans and Autonomy Lab at Duke University, also called for “a debate based on facts, not fear.” In a May 21 interview, she emphasized the need for a “much better understanding of the technology.”

‘Meaningful Human Control’

“We are beginning to develop a shared understanding internationally regarding the issues surrounding this new class of weapons,” said Ron Arkin, a roboticist from the Georgia Institute of Technology, in a May 19 e-mail. Nevertheless, he said, “[t]here remains a long way to go even in terms of shared definitions and terminology regarding autonomy and ‘meaningful human control,’” a concept endorsed by many delegations as a prerequisite for any lethal weapon.

In two sessions on international law, experts debated whether existing legal instruments could control new kinds of weapons.

“Many states recognized that existing international law, including international humanitarian law, already provides a robust framework for dealing with new weapon technologies, even if autonomous weapons—like many new technologies—pose some challenges,” Matthew Waxman, an official in the George W. Bush administration, said in a May 19 e-mail. Waxman, a law professor at Columbia University, spoke at the Geneva meeting.

Christof Heyns, a South African jurist who serves as UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, argued that new legal concepts will be necessary. Heyns’ April 2013 report to the United Nations on lethal autonomous weapons called for a moratorium on such weapons, after which civil society groups urged the parties to the CCW to convene the informal experts meeting in Geneva.

“I think there was a lot of interest at the meeting in the notion that it will be necessary to ensure that humans retain meaningful human control over each attack, and this concept—in addition to other concepts—has to be developed further,” Heyns said in a May 21 e-mail.

Stephen Goose, director of Human Rights Watch’s arms division, welcomed the emphasis on meaningful human control, saying in a May 20 interview that it represented a step toward expanding the CCW to cover lethal autonomous systems. But in a May 21 e-mail, a U.S. official countered, “It is premature to consider where the discussions may be leading.”

The debate about robotic weapons will continue in November when the parties to the CCW will decide at their annual meeting in Geneva whether to renew the mandate to study the issue in 2015.

“The interest shown in Geneva shows that killer robots need to go to top of the arms control and disarmament agenda,” Goose said.

The first UN meeting on robotic weapons triggers widespread interest and growing debate about technologies that could kill without human control.

Russia Undecided on Arms Trade Treaty

Daryl G. Kimball

Russia has not decided whether to sign the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), a Russian official said last month, apparently contradicting an earlier report by the state-run Voice of Russia broadcasting service.

In a May 21 e-mail to Arms Control Today, Mikhail Ulyanov, director of the department for nonproliferation and arms control at the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that “as of now, there is no decision on joining the ATT or not.”

The inquiry to Ulyanov was prompted by a May 20 Voice of Russia report saying Moscow had decided not to join the ATT.

“We see both positive and negative aspects, all of which will be taken into account,” Ulyanov said in the e-mail. One positive feature is the requirement for states to create or improve their national export control systems, he said. “But the list of the treaty’s drawbacks is also pretty long,” said Ulyanov, who was Russia’s chief negotiator during the multilateral talks that produced the ATT last year.

Russia has been criticized by many Western governments for continuing to supply the Bashar al-Assad regime, which has attacked civilian population centers throughout the three-year-old civil conflict in Syria. The ATT prohibits arms transfers if the supplier state “has knowledge at the time of authorization that the arms or items would be used in the commission of genocide, crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, attacks directed against civilian objects or civilians protected as such, or other war crimes.”

A year after the ATT was opened for signature, 118 states have signed it, and 32 have ratified it. When 50 states ratify the pact, it will enter into force.

Russia is one of several major arms supplier states that have not signed the treaty. Moscow is the world’s second-largest arms supplier, accounting for 27 percent of all arms exports from 2009 to 2013, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

The United States, the largest arms supplier, signed the treaty in September, but U.S. officials have indicated they do not plan to send it to the Senate for approval in the near future.

Russia has not decided whether to sign the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), a Russian official said last month, apparently contradicting an earlier report by the state-run Voice of Russia broadcasting service.

17 European Countries Ratify ATT

Jefferson Morley

Eighteen countries announced their ratification of the Arms Trade Treaty in early April, bringing the global pact to regulate the transfer of small and conventional arms closer to entry into force. To date, 118 countries have signed the accord, and 31 have ratified it. Fifty states need to ratify the treaty for it to become international law.

All but one of the countries that presented proof of ratification on April 2 are in Europe: Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Malta, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, and the United Kingdom. The only non-European country to ratify the treaty was El Salvador, which has experienced an influx of unregulated weapons and high levels of gun violence.

Although Africa suffers from some of the deadliest conflicts fueled by small arms, only two African countries—Mali and Nigeria—have ratified the treaty so far.

April 2 marked the one-year anniversary of the date the treaty was opened for signature.

“By globally regulating the international trade in arms, nations demonstrate their common responsibility to save lives, reduce human suffering and make the world a safer place for all,” the 17 European states said in a joint statement.

“With our joint deposit, we send a strong signal that we—countries that fought for the Treaty—will spare no efforts to achieve the Treaty’s early entry into force. We are confident that entry into force towards the end of this year 2014 is well within reach,” the statement said.

The United States, which signed the treaty last September, endorsed that goal in a joint statement with the European Union after the EU-U.S. summit on March 26. The Obama administration has yet to set a date for submitting the treaty to the Senate for ratification.

The next country to ratify the treaty could be Japan, where the House of Representatives unanimously approved a bill on April 10 to ratify the pact. The Japanese constitution guarantees its passage during the current session of the Diet, which runs through late June.

Eighteen countries announced their ratification of the Arms Trade Treaty in early April, bringing the global pact to regulate the transfer of small and conventional arms closer to entry into force. To date, 118 countries have signed the accord, and 31 have ratified it. Fifty states need to ratify the treaty for it to become international law.

Progress Slow on Landmine Ban

Jefferson Morley

Fifteen years after the global Mine Ban Treaty entered into force, many countries plagued with explosives are struggling to meet their commitments to survey and clear contaminated areas.

After the latest meeting of the parties to the treaty in Geneva in April, 27 countries are seeking or have obtained extensions on their obligations under the treaty, according to the treaty’s implementation support unit. That is one fewer than the number of countries that have announced completion of their efforts to clear their land of buried munitions.

Under Article 5 of the treaty, states are required to clear all their landmine-affected areas within 10 years.

The states that have joined the treaty will meet June 23-27 in Mozambique to assess past progress and future challenges. The International Campaign to Ban Landmines says the number of states requesting extensions is now “alarmingly high.”

Demining in a War Zone

Three countries now seeking extensions—Eritrea, Yemen, and Zimbabwe—illustrate the challenges facing the effort to rid the world of anti-personnel mines and cluster munitions.

In its extension request, Yemen’s National Mine Action Committee cited conditions of civil war, as well as money woes and inhospitable desert terrain, in requesting a five-year extension. Yemen still has at least 107 contaminated areas covering eight square kilometers, and 338 square kilometers of suspected hazardous territory that has yet to be evaluated, according to the committee.

Fighting between the Yemeni army and al Qaeda groups in 2011 in the governorates of Abyan, Sa’ada, Hajjah, Sana’a, and Amran has created a need for “survey operations to identify the extent of contamination. Successive conflicts have presented new and unexpected challenges with a resultant new and increased demand for mine action activities,” the committee stated.

The government’s Republican Guard laid thousands of landmines in Sana’a in 2011 in violation of the treaty, according to Human Rights Watch. Yemen has admitted the treaty violation, attributing it to ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Yemen says the jihadist forces also have planted homemade anti-personnel landmines.

In the first nine months of 2013, Yemen’s demining authority reported seven accidents that killed seven people and injured nine others.

Eritrea’s Ordeal

Colonial occupation, civil war, and conflict with neighboring Ethiopia have left Eritrea with large swaths of territory contaminated with landmines. In its request for a five-year extension, the Eritrea Demining Authority claimed it had cleared 287 contaminated areas covering 74 square kilometers in the past three years. Nonetheless, the authority says Eritrea still has 434 areas covering 33.5 square kilometers that need to be resurveyed.

The victims of landmines are mostly residents of rural areas where children often herd animals, according to the authority. Nine people have been reported killed and 43 injured by landmines since 2011. Eighty percent of the victims were under 18 years of age.

Lack of funding is likely to continue to impede Eritrea’s efforts, according to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. The country says its projected costs for the extension period will amount to $7.2 million, all to be raised nationally. In its extension request, Eritrea said it has stopped accepting international aid because its demining efforts are “more efficient” without assistance. For the last two years, Eritrea’s national contribution has been only $250,000.

Zimbabwe is requesting a three-year extension, the fourth extension it has sought since 2008. The country has 209 square kilometers of minefields that need to be cleared, according to the request from the Zimbabwean Mine Action Centre.

Zimbabwe received $1.7 million in international financial assistance for demining in 2013, the first time the country has received outside help since 1999, according to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. Economic sanctions against the government of Robert Mugabe have blocked the country’s access to international institutions.

U.S. Position Under Review

The United States is not a party to the treaty, but U.S. policy toward landmines has been “under review” since 2009. In recent weeks, some observers have said they believe a decision is near.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), a supporter of the treaty, has made a series of floor speeches this year urging the Obama administration to endorse the pact.

“If landmines were littering this country—in schoolyards, along roads, in corn fields, in our national parks—and hundreds of American children were being crippled…how long would it take before the White House sent the Mine Ban Treaty to the Senate for ratification?” Leahy asked in an April 9 statement.

On March 6, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the House Armed Services Committee that he considered self-destructing landmines to be “an important tool” in the U.S. arsenal. The U.S. position is that self-destructing mines are more humane, but they are prohibited by the Mine Ban Treaty.

Dempsey said “the currency of the threat on the Korean peninsula” was a factor in his assessment.

Fifteen years after the global pact against landmines took effect, war, lack of funds, and politics hinder some efforts to clear anti-personnel


Cancel Russia Copter Deal, Lawmakers Say

Jefferson Morley

While President Barack Obama seeks economic sanctions against Russia for its military intervention in Ukraine, the Defense Department is continuing to fulfill a $554 million contract with Russia’s arms export agency to supply military helicopters to the government of Afghanistan.

Some members of Congress are objecting. In a March 19 letter, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and four other House members urged Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to cancel the contract with Rosoboronexport, citing a recent executive order by Obama that imposes sanctions on persons “in the arms or related material sector of the Russian Federation” in response to the Russian invasion of Crimea.

In the past, the Pentagon has supported the Afghan military’s use of the Russian-made, battle-tested Mi-17 helicopter. In 2012, James Miller, acting undersecretary of defense for policy, said the Russian-made aircraft had “proven operational capabilities in the extreme environments of Afghanistan.” Cancellation of the contract would “complicate the maintenance, sustainment, and supply systems required to support the fleet” of the embattled Afghan armed forces, the Pentagon said in response to criticism from Congress and human rights advocates over Rosoboronexport supplying weapons to the Syrian government as it waged a bloody civil war.

When Congress prohibited dealings with Rosobornonexport in 2013, the Pentagon invoked a national security waiver provision in the law and extended the contract, triggering more criticism from Congress.

In November, the Defense Department dropped plans to purchase 15 to 20 additional helicopters from Rosoboronexport. Pentagon officials said at that time they would fulfill the original contract, calling for 30 helicopters to be delivered in batches of six. The second batch arrived in Afghanistan in late February, according to the Itar-Tass news agency, with three more deliveries scheduled before the end of 2014.

When asked for comment, a Defense Department spokesman said in a March 21 e-mail that “the government ensures that termination is authorized in all contracts by including the appropriate termination clauses in each contract” and cited the “requirement to use those termination clauses,” suggesting that termination because of Rosoboronexport’s trade with Syria or Russia’s intervention in Ukraine is not permitted under the contract.

While President Barack Obama seeks economic sanctions against Russia for its military intervention in Ukraine, the Defense Department is continuing to fulfill a $554 million contract with Russia’s arms export agency to supply military helicopters to the government of Afghanistan.

Congress Bans Funds for Arms Trade Pact

Jefferson Morley

Congress has barred the Obama administration from spending any money to implement the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which was signed by Secretary of State John Kerry last September.

The fiscal year 2014 omnibus appropriations bill, signed into law by Obama on Jan. 17, says that none of the funds covered by the legislation “may be obligated or expended to implement the Arms Trade Treaty until the Senate approves a resolution of ratification for the Treaty.”

“Congress is committed to upholding the fundamental individual rights of Americans and rejects the ATT,” Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said in a Jan. 14 statement. “We will not be bound by the treaty and we will not fund its implementation.”

Moran and other opponents say the treaty compromises U.S. sovereignty and threatens rights guaranteed by the Constitution’s Second Amendment.

Supporters say the ATT will regulate international trade in conventional weapons, enforce arms embargoes on rogue states, and ban the sale of weapons that might be used in human right abuses or organized crime. The treaty also calls for the establishment of national control systems to regulate trade in conventional arms, ammunition, and weapons parts. (See ACT, December 2013.)

The treaty was approved by the UN General Assembly last April by a vote of 154-3. The only countries to vote against it were Iran, North Korea, and Syria. The treaty will enter into force when 50 states ratify it. To date, nine states have ratified it.

The Obama administration has not announced when it will submit the ATT to the Senate, saying only that other previously signed treaties will come first.

Congress has barred the Obama administration from spending any money to implement the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which was signed by Secretary of State John Kerry last September.

Germany Adhering to Arms Trade Treaty

Jefferson Morley

Germany announced in January that it had decided to apply the terms of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) provisionally in advance of formal ratification.

In a Jan. 22 statement, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said, “We hope to persuade other states to follow suit, thus making the world a little bit safer.”

Germany signed the treaty last June 3, when the pact was opened for signature. (See ACT, July/August 2013.)

The statement specified that Germany would apply the ATT’s core provisions, Articles 6 and 7, which establish the criteria for evaluating arms export applications. Germany hopes to ratify the treaty later this year, the statement said.

The ATT would regulate international trade in conventional weapons, from guns to tanks. It calls for the enforcement of arms embargoes and forbids the sale of weapons that could be used in genocide, in crimes against humanity, or by violent extremists or organized crime gangs. It also calls for the establishment of national control systems to regulate the trade in conventional arms, ammunition, and weapons parts.

Germany has been a leading advocate of the ATT since the start of the negotiating process in 2006. It was the world’s third-largest arms exporter in 2012, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

In April 2013, the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly adopted the ATT. The treaty will enter into force when 50 countries have ratified it. To date, it has been signed by 116 counties and ratified by nine.

Germany announced in January that it had decided to apply the terms of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) provisionally in advance of formal ratification.


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